Monthly Archives: January 2017

Starting school – tips to ease the transition

Starting school for the first time can spark excitement and fear, joy and sadness, anxiety and anticipation – in both boys and their parents.

As school begins for another year, young boys across Australia are starting their learning journey – one which will include successes, failures and everything in between.

It is a huge learning curve for boys to adjust to school for the first time, from learning to look after their belongings and being away from their main care giver i.e. mum, to forming positive friendships and listening to teachers.

The WA Health Department offers tips to parents to help ease their children into school;

Talk about feelings

Starting school is exciting but can also be overwhelming for some children. Shyness and anxiety in new situations is common and learning to be apart from parents can sometimes be difficult.

• Talk positively about going to school, making new friends and about some of the experiences your child will have, such as learning new songs, painting and playing outside.

• Encourage your child to talk about how they are feeling before, on and after the first few days.

• When you arrive at school, spend a short amount of time with your child and, when it is time for you to leave, tell your child you’re going and when you will be back. Always be there at the specified time.

Get enough sleep

• Your child needs a good night’s sleep for their brain to be ready to learn (about 10 to 12 hours).

• It helps to have ‘wind down’ time and dim the lights to help prepare for sleep. Set up a nice, relaxing bedtime routine, for example a bath, a drink, cuddle, story, kiss and ‘goodnight’.

Share a book

Read lots and lots of books! Have a special time each day to read stories together – sit comfortably so your child can see the book and your facial expressions, and so you can see theirs.

• Show your child how to open the book, point to the title of the story, the letters, words and pictures so they will know what it means.

• Read nursery rhymes and old favourites again and again.

• Get your child involved in the story and ask open ended questions, for example, ‘What do you think will happen next?’

Learning to make friends and pretend play

At school, children learn to make friends, share and take turns.

• Create opportunities for your child to socialise with others outside the family – initiate play dates with other children.

• Pretend play such as going to the shops, tea parties and superheroes are a big part of school. Let your child use their imagination. A shoe box can become a toy car or a doll’s bed!

Playgrounds and parks

Having fun at the park is great as it provides lots of chances to enjoy the swings, slide and other equipment. By doing physical activity like this:

• your child’s muscles will get stronger and it prepares them for outdoor play at school. Make sure they are well supervised when playing

• a part of the brain is used which can help kids concentrate, so it is helpful to do some physical activity before a sit down activity, such as play at the park before sitting down to read a book.

Speaking and listening

Listening and understanding includes following instructions and being aware of what other people are saying. If your child is finding this tricky you can try:

• waiting – give time for your child to answer or do the task

• repeating what was said or breaking it down into smaller parts

• using less words and explaining the meaning of new words

• giving them a clue like, ‘You cut with the…?’

• giving a choice like, ‘Do we use a cup for drinking or eating?’

Commenting, negotiating, asking for things and greeting people are all important skills at school. If your child finds this tricky you can:

• encourage your child to make comments, for example ‘Dad is swimming!’

• if they make a mistake, say the word back to them correctly

• ask them to show you what they need if they can’t say it in words

• give lots of praise for trying.

Getting dressed

It is helpful for school children to be able to dress and undress themselves. You can help by:

• dressing your child for school, remembering they may be playing outside or painting

• practising dressing – you complete the first part of each piece of clothing and then let the child complete the rest, gradually letting the child do more until they do it all themselves

• practising with dress-up play or with dolls.

Healthy eating

Healthy lunches and snacks help with concentration and learning. You can try:

• encouraging your child to be involved, for example packing their own lunch box.

• including plenty of vegetables, fresh fruit, cheese, yoghurt, lean meat, wholemeal bread and a bottle of water. Remember to start the day with a healthy breakfast!

Going to the toilet

To help your child manage the toilet at school give them chances to undo, pull down and do up their clothes, flush the toilet and wash their hands without your help.

When your child starts school it can be quite overwhelming for you too! It is important you try to relax and enjoy this time with your child.

If you feel calm and show you are comfortable about your child starting school, they will feel happier too.

Boys’ reading gap – is it in the testing?

Boys tend to lag behind girls in school reading tests, but this gap seemingly disappears as they reach young adulthood. This anomaly has been questioned by researchers across the globe for decades and new research from Norway suggests the content and skills tested in international reading tests need to be reviewed to gauge whether there really is a significant gap between genders.

Researchers from the University of Stavanger looked at two major international reading tests for primary and early-teen aged children in their study (Progress in International Literacy Survey and the Programme for International Student Assessment). Both reading tests measured whether pupils could extract information from a text, draw simple conclusions, interpret and compare information, assess language, content and literary devices in the text. Regardless of which of these aspects were measured, researchers found girls continued to perform better than boys.

However, when 16-24 year old reading abilities were tested in the PIAAC (Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies) there was minimal difference between male and female results. Researchers suggested the nature of the administration of tests, their content and the motivation of those completing the test all played key parts in the results which showed girls lead boys in reading ability.

Researcher Judith Solheim said researchers studied the way the three tests were designed, the way they measured reading and their implementation, saying the design of the tests themselves could partially explain why pronounced gender differences in reading in children as they progressed through schooling seemingly disappeared in the 16-24 age bracket.

“Based on earlier research, it appears that PIRLS and PISA – i.e. the tests used in schools – are designed in a way that may favour girls. PIAAC is designed differently. This could be one explanation as to why we are seeing gender differences in the results,” said Solheim.

The PISA and PIRLS tests contain a number of what are described as continuous texts for children to read – such as long, descriptive narratives. Researchers said previous research has found girls and women are generally better at reading this type of text compared to boys and men. Males are generally better at reading ‘non-continuous texts’ such as graphs, forms and advertisements. Prior studies have also revealed the gap between girls’ and boys’ reading abilities was more in favour of girls when students have had to read fictional texts when compared to factual texts.

“Since we know that it is an advantage for girls to read long, fictional texts, it could be giving them an advantage to provide them with this type of text in the reading tests, which could affect the results in terms of measuring pupils’ skills,” said Solheim.

Motivation is also a key factor to consider when looking at reading test results. It is common knowledge among researchers that it is usually more difficult to motivate boys to read a given text than girls.

“The gender of the protagonist, the subject of the text and attitudes to the text or general subject play more of a role for boys in how well they perform when they have to read than for girls,” said Solheim.

She added girls were more likely to do what was expected of them than boys, who were more likely to ask what the point of the exercise was.

“Since we know that boys are more critical about doing things that have no direct significance for them, it is conceivable that they are more likely to avoid expending energy on a test that will not affect their qualifications. Motivation could also explain part of the reason why the differences are greater at lower secondary school than primary school, since it is well known that teenagers are more likely to question authority, such as the school, than younger children.”

Researchers urged test administrators to consider the findings of their study, saying the difference between girls’ and boys’ reading abilities was considered an “educational challenge” by most OECD countries.

“Reading is described as a skill, which we have the potential to achieve. We may question whether the various tests, in their current design, give boys and girls, and men and women, an equal basis for achieving their potential as readers. We now know that reading tests in schools are designed in a way that affects girls positively,” said Solheim.

“This means that the challenge now is to find out how we can create reading tests that accurately demonstrate the actual skills of all boys and girls, and men and women, in terms of reading. That would give us a better basis for saying whether there really is reason to be concerned about boys’ reading skills.”






Digital use is ok – with limits

With tablets, phones, lap tops, internet TVs and game consoles overtaking our boys’ lives, parents continue to question how to monitor use of these diverse and ever-changing technologies in age-appropriate ways for their children.

Most parents are eager for their children to develop a keen understanding of digital devices and online landscapes. More than 90 per cent of parents surveyed by the Office of Children’s eSafety Commissioner said they saw great benefits to digital use by children, including helping with schoolwork, development of research skills, entertainment and development of vital skills in technology use.

On the flipside, parents also spend a lot of time worrying about potential risks to their children online – whether they are perceived or real risks to their digital reputation or real safety. More than two-thirds of parents surveyed believed their children were exposed to potential risks by using digital technology.

Accessing inappropriate content was the main concern of parents (60 per cent), half of those surveyed also feared stranger danger online, while 42 per cent thought excessive use of technology could harm their children in some way.

Parents of digital natives have had to try to become tech-savvy to keep up with their children online – latest apps, games, social media platforms and viral videos. However, the nature of tweens and teens today encompasses virtually instantaneous adoption of new must-have technology, apps or platforms. So much so, that a lot of parents are struggling to keep up, understand how to use these devices, apps and sites appropriately, and to teach their children how to do so.

Parental locks and controls on devices, apps and internet browsers can help parents to monitor their child’s use of digital technologies. However, none of these are foolproof and the Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner warns parents not to solely rely on these to protect their children online.

The Raising Children Network offers tips to parents about monitoring children’s online use;

  • Talk with all family members about internet access. Monitoring works best if you can have calm and frank discussions with your child about his internet activities.
  • Keep computers in a family area, or make sure your child uses tablets, phones and hand-held devices where you can see them. If possible, avoid online activity in a study or bedroom. This helps you keep an eye on how long your child is online as well as what websites they’re visiting.
  • Turn off all internet-accessing devices at night, including mobile phones, and keep portable devices in a common family space.
  • Together with your child, set up some simple and fair rules about internet use. For example, set a reasonable limit on your child’s screen time. Discuss how these rules apply outside your home – for example, at the local library. When your child follows the rules, give him lots of positive feedback.
  • Check the websites your child has been visiting by using the History tab in your browser.


Tips for providing a safe and appropriate online experience for children;

  • Help your child identify unsuitable material by naming some things to look out for. For example, ‘If you see a site with scary or rude pictures, swearing or angry words, let me know. It’s not a good site for you to look at’.
  • When your child gets a new app, joins a new website, starts a new account, signs up to a newsletter and so on, make sure the first thing you do is check and set privacy settings. Select the strictest privacy settings, turn off location sharing and so on.
  • Tell your child not to share personal details online. This includes surname, address, phone number, birth date and school.
  • Ask your child to let you know if a person he doesn’t know contacts him via email, instant message, or social networking. You can block these people from sending messages again.



Young boys’ electronic media use impacts health: new study

New research from the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute has found a link between different types of electronic media and mental health among young children.

New research from the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute has found a link between different types of electronic media and mental health among young children.

Led by Dr Lisa Mundy, the research is the first large population-based study to show clear links between the amount of time spent using TV and video games, and emotional and behavioural problems in late childhood (8-9 years). It was published in Academic Pediatrics.

“This is an important age group to study, because it’s the age at which children’s use of media begins to escalate,” Dr Mundy explains.

“It’s also an age at which children are highly sensitive, due to the huge biological, psychological and emotional development, which occurs during this phase of life,” she adds.

Researchers found that there were specific types of electronic media associated with these problems among 8-9 year-olds.

Findings include:

  • The use of video games among boys was associated with greater conduct and emotional problems. A boy playing an average of 2 hours per day per week is at 2.6-times greater odds of having conduct and emotional problems.
  • Watching TV was associated with greater hyperactivity and inattention problems in boys. A boy watching an average of 2 hours per day per week (or 14 hours each week) is at 1.7-times greater odds of having hyperactivity/inattention problems.
  • Girls of this age were not found to be affected in the same way.
  • There was no clear link between computer use and emotional and behavioural issues.

Researchers noted that while electronic media use may have many positive outcomes, including as a tool for emotional regulation, different media may have different effects on the developing male and female brain. This is in part due to the way boys and girls consume and use media, even from a young age.

“It may be that the electronic media causes emotional and behavioural problems – or it may be that children with these problems spend more time using electronic media,” Dr Mundy explains.

“What’s important to note is how the nature of the media affects the experience,” she adds. “W e know that at this age, playing video games tends to be a solitary experience, whereas watching TV is more likely to occur with the family.”

The research used the first wave of data gathered through the Childhood to Adolescence Transition Study (CATS), a unique cohort designed to track the health and social adjustment of children as they pass through puberty.

By studying modifiable factors, such as the use of electronic media, researchers will be able to develop interventions that can lead to better health for children and adolescents.

“While the amount of ‘screen time’ in a day is important, our results suggest it’s not the only factor at play – the type of media matters too, and future interventions targeting specific media and gender differences in use would be most effective,” Dr Mundy says.

Originally published by the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute